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Join my campaign to curb media coyness

November 29th, 2007

Dr Petra

It seems that despite sex being a staple part of the media, many journalists and most editors are regularly struck by coyness.

You may not have heard of this problem, but you’ll have definitely been on the receiving end of it. It’s when an editor, publisher or journalist gets skittish about sexual matters so avoids discussing issues in a frank or sexy way.

It’s long been known to those in the industry that magazines and television programmes are only as upfront about sex as their advertisers will allow them to be. But the public often isn’t aware just how much editors, publishers or producers deliberately censor sexual coverage.

Here’s how media coyness is damaging your sex life.

If you flick through your average magazine in the UK you’ll notice clitorises by their absence. There’s a regular omission of the clitoris – particularly in women’s magazines where you’d think there would be a real bonus in mentioning the c-word. Sadly, no. Women’s magazines – especially those aimed at teens, new mums, or older women are very coy about discussing clitorises. Whilst the vagina may get an occasional look in, you rarely see clitoris mentioned. Where it is discussed it’s usually as a footnote when discussing foreplay – or in the case of men’s magazines the thing you resort to rubbing if a woman seems to be taking her time about having an orgasm.

Women’s and men’s magazines may refer to sex, penetrative sex or intercourse, but they abstain from mentioning what goes where during said activities. They don’t talk about the fact that ‘sex’ is more than putting a penis (or dildo) in a vagina. So this means readers aren’t informed that ‘sex’ might include mutual or solo masturbation, it might mean giving or receiving oral sex, it might include kisses, cuddles or stroking, it might include watching erotic material, giving a massage, anal stimulation, dressing up, dressing down, cross dressing, or absolutely none of the above.

Because of the coyness there’s never any real discussion of your options, so even though nobody really talks frankly about what you could be doing, they also don’t speak frankly about your options to say no to things you may not like – and how to deal with a partner who just doesn’t get that message.

Editors are skittish because they worry if they mention things like clitorises or going into too much detail about touching yourself, sticking things up your bum or other sexual practices they may have to describe these activities in words they feel their advertisers won’t like. Of course because they don’t want to admit to being deliberately coy they’ll tell you it’s their readers who don’t want minky shoved in their faces.

Things I’ve discovered make editors and many journalists very anxious are words like ‘clitoris’, ‘masturbation’, ‘touching your clitoris/vagina’, ‘putting a sex toy in your vagina or up your bum’, ‘licking or kissing vaginas/vaginal lips/clitorises/penises’. Words like ‘nipple’, ‘slut’, ‘cock’, ‘pussy’, ‘lubrication’ and ‘cum’ tend to get them in a lather (but not usually in a good way). Telling them people like touching their own penis or clitoris definite no-no. And you can guarantee things will go badly if you start discussing licking or kissing anywhere near the bum area.

Often coyness is hidden because the media makes it seem like it’s being very forward about sex issues. But when you try and push the boundaries you soon see this is a front. For example, men’s magazines can handle endless discussions on the virtues of two girls and a guy threesomes and persuading your lady to let you have anal sex. But suggest that men may like it up the Hershey highway, or a threesome might be two guys and a gal or three guys and no gal and editors are likely to pass out.

Part of this is due to advertising pressure and part of it is due to constructing their readership – so lad’s mags have to be aggressively heterosexual and have sex tips that only enhance the image of a stud muffin. Women’s magazines are all about being okay in bed but being aware you could get better if you pop on a pair of Jimmy Choos, some expensive lingerie and buy an overpriced sex toy. Oh, and learning how to give the perfect blow job (without mentioning too much about the logistics of course). It’s easy to seem like you’re not coy if you talk about sex in terms of how to perform it, but by doing so you cut out messages of pleasure, choice and adventure.

Magazines want to promote an aspirational image of a successful person to their readership (whatever their age), rather than the reality which is most readers have a lot of sexual questions, desires and concerns – and would also just like to know how to enjoy their sex lives without going round the houses and still not getting an answer.

The other reason for this problem is that magazine editors, like most people, probably haven’t had that good sex education and aren’t necessarily confident to speak about sexual issues. They may not really know how to write about sex well so go for the ‘safer’ options. Since most editors think sex is a ‘lite’ topic – one that’s not journalistically important but has to be included this also serves as a disincentive to cover sex without the coyness.

As a result instead of masturbation readers are told to ‘touch themselves’ or ‘explore their body’. Which might mean fiddling with your clit or rubbing your nose it’s so vague. And being coy also serves to reinforce sexual stereotypes – so if you’re a new mum you’re not supposed to be sexual but should make yourself do it. Same goes for teen girls (not allowed to be sexual) and older women (not believed to be sexual). The exception is teenage boys, men of all ages and women aged between 18 and 40 – all of whom are supposed to be endlessly sexual.

But how are they to do this when instead of mentioning genitals readers are just told about ‘enjoying sex’. Sex toys, lingerie and dress up outfits are all mentioned to make a feature seem spicy but it’s really just a means of avoiding having to talk about what you’re actually going to do in the boudoir.

In short the media – particularly magazines and television coverage – are full of sexual references, but when you look closely it’s all about what you should be doing (or buying) but never enough specifics about how to do it.

We need to stamp out this terrible affliction of coyness and demand of our producers, publishers, editors and journalists to be brave and stand up to their advertisers, because their readers do not want vague mentions of their private parts. They want to know exactly what’s going on so they can enjoy their sex lives.

Want to join the campaign? Here’s how.

Each and every time you notice a magazine, newspaper, website, television or radio programme not discussing sex correctly – or specifically using coy terms or missing out body parts or key instructions about sexual activity write to the editor/producer and tell them what you’d like to see instead. If enough of us keep doing it we might end up seeing an end to coy sex coverage.

And since every campaign needs a theme tune here’s ours – ‘Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo’ from The Bloodhound Gang – filled to the brim with innuendo.

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